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HS2 opponents jump on Virgin peak passenger figures

Official figures show that almost half the seats on Virgin’s peak-time evening trains on the West Coast Main Line were empty last year. This undermines the Government’s arguments for HS2, opponents have suggested, if WCML capacity is less of an issue than some suggest.

The data was released as councils continue with their judicial review against the project.

Capacity has been highlighted as a key driver for HS2, with space on the network filling up quickly. But in 2011, long-distance Virgin trains leaving Euston on weekdays between 4pm and 7pm had 52.5% of seats occupied. This is down from 54.2% in 2008.

However, crowding is worse in the first hour of off-peak, as tickets are far cheaper. Greengauge 21 pointed out that London Midland, which runs commuter services on the WCML, was at 94% capacity, with traffic levels increasing by 4% a year.

The result of the judicial review is expected early in the new year.

Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire county council, one of 18 local authorities which have combined to bring the case, said: “These numbers blow apart the last prop of the Government’s argument for HS2. The business case for the line has already collapsed. Their argument was all about capacity.”

Greengauge 21 director Jim Steer said: “The important point that anti-HS2 campaigners fail to acknowledge is that the best way to free up capacity for commuters in the fast-growing Milton Keynes-Northampton corridor is to take the Virgin Trains services off the line and free it up for more commuter services and for more freight services.

“Our studies have shown that a transformed timetable can be offered, supporting growth, relieving serious overcrowding which is coming just a few years down the line and getting  a lot of lorries off the road network.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]

Image c. Ewan Munro


Jb   05/04/2014 at 12:09

Just what I expected. Peak time trains are busy but in my experience off-peak trains are at best, only half full. One way to improve capacity on the WCML is to transfer some of the Manchester trains back to St Pancras, preferably by re-opening the short stretch between Peak Forest and Darley Dale/Matlock, but immediately by routing some E. Midlands HSTs via the W to S Dore curve. Re-instating the ex GC line to Manchester would further reduce the need for a new route. These two routes were deliberately closed to maximise traffic on the newly electrified WCML so it might be expected to get busier as time passed. In my opinion it would be far better to spend a fraction of the cost of HS2 on replacing lines lost in the late 1960s and 70s such as the short section between Skipton and Colne (thus creating an additional trans-Pennine route) and Northallerton to Harrogate, putting the City of Ripon back on the railway map. Many other connections could be cited which would bring benefits in a far shorter timescale than the proposed HS2 for which we have yet to see any real justification.

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